Reasonable to require gun handling

Some Iowa senators finally seem ready to require basic gun handling as part of the permitting process. Better late than never.

Sen. Steve Sodders, a State Center Democrat, told Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell that if the Iowa Senate takes up a House-approved bill that would make permit renewal easier and keep permit holders’ information private, passage would likely be linked to a requirement that those applying for permits demonstrate basic weapon knowledge.

“How to load it and unload it safely. You know, point it downrange, don’t point it at people. All those safety issues,” Sodders told IPR.

In 2011, when Iowa became a “shall issue” state, removing nearly all discretion in weapon permitting from local law enforcement, the state mandated most permit applicants attend guns safety classes. The legislature, however, did not specify the content or curriculum of those classes, and didn’t give such authority to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mike Huckabee fires a Sig Sauer P238 in the range at Midwest Shooting Supply in Hiawatha on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mike Huckabee fires a Sig Sauer P238 in the range at Midwest Shooting Supply in Hiawatha on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

The end result is some comprehensive classes, and some very non-comprehensive classes. On the low end are online classes that consist of nothing more than videos, which don’t have to be watched, and 10-question, multiple-choice quizzes. So long as the participant pays the class fee, which is usually about $50, he or she receives a certificate that meets the state requirements for gun safety.

No need to fire a weapon, much less touch one.

It’s an issue I’ve been writing about and bringing up directly with lawmakers for the past five years — one that I intend to keep harping about until there is resolution.

It’s the reason Iowa gun owners, especially those who haven’t learned how to properly fit their holsters or who otherwise publicly display ineptness with their weapon, make me nervous. I’m not alone.

When one of my previous columns on the subject was picked up, taken out of context and circulated throughout the country, I had the opportunity to speak with passionate gun owners from coast to coast. Time and again gun owners in states many consider gun-friendly were taken aback by Iowa’s so-called gun safety class mandate.

“That’s just crazy,” one member of the Texas Rifleman’s Association told me.

Evidently that’s an opinion the National Rifle Association shares since, as a DPS spokesman told me, the organization no longer authorizes its instructors to offer those online gun safety classes in Iowa.

As far as other statistics — like the number or percentage of Iowa permit holders who certified through lackluster online classes — DPS doesn’t keep them.

And before the gun lobby picks up this column and tries to make a little political hay out of it, let me clarify. I’m not advocating for range certification, nor am I saying we need shooting proficiency tests.

I am saying that if the state is going to mandate gun safety training, it ought to mean something. People authorized to carry a weapon into the local library or grocery store should have basic knowledge of what’s resting near their armpit or in their handbag.

The public deserves more than a false sense of security, which is what Iowa’s current gun class mandate provides.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on March 5, 2016. Photo credit: Liz Martin/The Gazette